Jerusalem - A Story
I welcomed the stones, the pain they inflicted matched that of my heart. I was weary, as only one who has lived thousands of years could be. I had been in places such as this before and the punishment of the ignorant had been meted out in various forms, but none, none of them had damaged this immortal body grievously enough to bring about death. Perhaps this barbaric practice of stoning would do what could not be done before. I closed my eyes, opened my arms and waited for the release from this endless life.
The first second passed, then another and another. The rain of blows upon my body had been stilled, somehow the raging storm of mindless fear of that which is different, had been calmed and I knew not why. I opened my eyes. Aye, there they stood, the people of this primitive town, this uncultured society. Most still held stone in their hands that now rested at their sides, a few had dropped their missiles to the ground and had the grace to look ashamed of their actions. Yet every eye was turned to the man who had interrupted this travesty of a court that carried out the sentence.
There was every indication that he had spoken to the crowd, yet I had heard him not, lost as I was in the frail hope that death would at last find me. It seemed he finished and had said all that was needed. The dry dust of this land was thrown up by the impact as stone after stone fell heavily to the earth. One by one my jury and executioners left, until there was only he and I in the empty street.
Those eyes, he looked at me with those eyes and I fell to my knees. I have not seen such light since the beginning times. How could a mortal bear a light brighter than the Trees and the Silmarils combined?
"Are you a demon as they claim?" he asked me gently. His voice was that of warm compassion and love for all that lived.
I shook my head as I endeavored to pry my tongue loose from the roof of my mouth. He held out his hands and helped me to my feet. Power. There was power in those hands. The moment his skin met mine I knew and so did he. Were mortals so blind that they could not see or feel the incandescent power that surrounded him with a radiant aura? He gently touched those features that gave rise to rumor of demon, devil, for surely I must be the embodiment of evil with features that in no way resembled those of other mortals.
"The passing of ages have become a burden to your soul my brother, yet fear not, for you are as the Father intended," he said with his hands on my shoulders.
I was in shock, disbelieving and bewildered by his words, his knowledge of whom, what I am. My people had long become the fodder for pathetic legends and myths, forgotten by a mortal world whose memories were shorter than the time allotted to them on this earth. Not only did he recognize me, but also he knew the burdens of my heart as intimately as if they were his own.
My tongue finally found its freedom, yet stumbled as I asked, "Who is this father you speak of? I know him not."
"Fear not friend, for he knows you as surely as he knows the sparrow," he said, his soft laughter offering a comfort I dared not take. "He is the One, the Only, the Beginning and the End."
Again I shook my head, now thoroughly confused, for the only being that deserved that description and it was Illuvatar, Eru, the creator of the Music.
"But that cannot be! Your Father and my Creator cannot be one and the same," I cried, in repudiation of the truth that shimmered just beyond my reach. "It is just not possible."
It could not be possible; I have seen the gods and deities worshipped by mortals over time. Most of these were false gods, idols worshipped to confirm their debased practices as holy. The others were all pale shadows of the Valar, drawn from long forgotten half-truths and mystery; all that remained in the minds of men. Monotheism was not new and yet there were a people here who had taken the practice to new heights; Jews they called themselves. They claimed to be the chosen people of their one god, set above all others. This Jehovah bore some of Illuvatar's characteristics, but I had never been convinced they were one in the same.
Yet this man spoke with such quiet authority as to place doubt in my heart. Truth resonated in every word he uttered. Could it be?
He did not answer me at first, only smiled and took my hand. He led me down the empty street to a small home. He brushed aside the woven hanging that served as a door. On the floor to our right stood an earthenware bowl covered by a rough cloth. It was the custom in this place of sand and dust to remove one's sandals and wash the powdered earth from one's feet. In the homes of the wealthy there were servants who performed this service for the master and his guests, but it was just he and I in this humble dwelling with its roof of thatch. Moved by some impulse I could not put a name to, I knelt and took the cloth from the bowl; the gentle pressure of his hand on my shoulder as he knelt by my side stopped me. He motioned me to stand and I did as I was bid, though in my mind it was not seemly that he should perform this lowly task.
"Master, please," I begged, as the question arose in my heart: Why did I call him that? "It is not fitting. I see you and I feel you. You possess majesty greater than that of all the kings of Númenor and the Valar combined. I am not worthy of this attention you would show me."
As the words left my lips my mind was racing, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Never in the last thousands of years had I uttered any words of the beginning times. Not since kneeling at the feet of Manwë and Yavanna had I felt so humbled. The greatest of the Valar were but a dim shadow before the light of this mortal man. While my mind spun in the whirlwind of confusion, my heart opened and heeded the words he spoke.
"He who would be master must first be a servant. The last shall be first, the arrogant laid low and the meek shall inherit the earth."
Tears fell unheeded from my eyes while he washed and dried my feet. No accolade was ever greater than his permission to do the same for him. My hands trembled as I laved the water over his calloused feet. These were the feet of a man who had spent much of his time walking and standing. Tenderly I dried the roughened skin as if it was the delicate flesh of an infant and still my tears fell. Why did this man move me so?
We sat and I asked him the question that had tormented me since I met him. "Who are you?"
"I am the Son of the living God, His Word made flesh to dwell among men so that when they see me, they see Him," he explained calmly, making outrageous claims as if he were simply describing his garments, the length of his hair or the color of his eyes.
"This god of yours, your father, you tell me that he is Illuvatar," I struggled to make myself understood, to understand. "The Creator who filled the void with music and brought this world into being?"
"He has many names but all spring from the One. There is no other."
I trembled anew, from the center of my being to the tips of my fingers, my toes. I sensed a great truth that would lift the darkness from me as my many attempts at death had not. What was it he had said to me back in the street ...?
"You say he knows me as he knows the sparrow. How long has he known me?" I demanded nervously.
He smiled at me again and I felt his power wash over me. The coldest places of my heart and soul began to warm under his gaze. I could follow this man, this mortal of whom I knew nothing, for the rest of eternity. My allegiance was sealed with the promise of his words.
"He has known you from the beginning days of your people. You are a child of the Light, His Light," he said lovingly. "The Trees, the Evening Star that sails through the night sky, all are but a reflection of His light. They could not exist without him."
Telperion, Laurelin, Eärendil - He knew! He is truly the Son of the Creator, for no mortal alive could have known what He did. But He was not finished.
"In His house there are many rooms and soon I will go to prepare a place for you, for all who are His in life and come to Him in death."
The Halls of Mandos!
"Ah my brother, the weight of your years of life has become burdensome. You have lost your way and walk in darkness," He said softly.
His fingers brushed the unceasing tears from my face, but to no avail. The dam of the centuries had been breached and there was no stopping the flood that had been released. His words touched my heart with their truth; I had not felt the light nor heard the music since a long distant past.
He clasped my hands in His and I clung to them, lest I be swept away in the torrential outpouring that sprang from some deep well within me.
"Follow me in the ways of the Father, seek only His light, His truth," he instructed. "As He knows and loves you, I do also, my brother. Will you come with me?"
'Would I come with Him?' I thought incredulously. Somehow the light of Illuvatar had been embodied in the frail flesh of a mortal man, His Son. He recognized me for what I am and saw that it was good. He knew my heart better than I did myself. Though my senses had dulled slightly with the passing of time, they were still keener than that of mortals and had enabled me to see the hidden power that proclaim His lineage as surely as the grey eyes and raven hair proclaimed the blood of Númenor. I thought that I had seen all that this ever-changing world had to show me but now I knew that arrogant assumption to be folly. For the first time since the Great Passing, I felt hope.
"I will follow You to the ends of the earth, until the end of my days," I vowed brokenly.
I fell into His embrace and wept.
He stumbled ahead of me on the rough road, scarcely able to walk. I'm sure His knees must have been broken, for He had fallen more than once. The soldiers, they had pulled me from the crowd that followed him and ordered me to take up his cross that he could no longer carry. My heart pounded in my breast that I had been allowed the hallowed duty of sharing my Master's burden. I carried it while I could for He who has taken on the burdens and hurts of all mankind and mine also.
Taunts and jeers were hurled in our direction but they were no longer for me, He had taken care of that. On that first day, as I wept in His arms, He placed His hands on either side of my head and I felt his power run through me.
"Now you will walk in this world as I have, in the form of Man," He whispered into my hair, "and the people will see one who loves the Son and reveres the Father."
The people of this time would have said that He had healed me of my deformity, but I knew the truth. Any persecution I suffer would be in His name and not because of myself; He had bestowed upon me a privilege and an honor that I would do my utmost to be worthy of. Until that time, all I could do was to shoulder His load and wonder.
I wondered how the chanting, hate-filled mob that lined the road could not see the divine illumination that shone brightly through His paper-thin skin. All they seemed to see was the broken, bleeding man clothed in naught but a robe of scorn. On His head was a crown made of thorn branches woven together, placed there by some contemptuous guard. Only His most loyal followers, His disciples he called them, followed behind with the weeping women, one of them his mother. Yet I believe there was one of these men missing, I could have sworn He had twelve disciples but now I could only count eleven.
Then the long, dusty walk was over. We had reached the hill that bore the wretched name of the skull. Two crosses had already been raised, and I heard someone say the men that hung there were thieves. A tortuous death, this death by crucifixion; these men would hang there until they could no longer hold up their head and by letting it fall, suffocate. This was the ignoble death that was to be afforded to the Master.
The disciples and many other followers could not understand how this could be part of the Father's great plan, but then they only had the knowledge of their infinitesimal time on earth. Having the wisdom of the immortal life granted to the First Children, I knew that His death was only temporary. This man was the incarnate spirit of the One; He was more immortal than I could ever hope to be. He was possessed of a power that Morgoth would have envied.
Yet this foresight did not make the manner of His death more bearable. Every strike of the hammer that drove the spikes through the flesh and bone of His feet, His wrists was pure agony for me. Ai, what I would have given to have the hearing of a mortal; it would have been a blessing not to hear the crack of bone that reached my ears alone. The smell of blood and sweat overpowered all other scents. I could no longer smell the dust, the perfume of the women or the gathering storm. I could see the blood change its course as they raised His cross, every crimson drop. I heard the sound of a blade cutting through flesh as a wound was opened in His side.
I could no longer bear it; but bear it I did, as He bore the weight of the world's wickedness without complaint. Overcome, I cast myself to my knees, clutching at the earth in anguish until I heard a hoarse whisper. I looked from side to side; no other had heard what I had. He called to me again.
I raised my eyes to His and felt His peace. He had spoken of peace once; He said He had come to bring His peace, His Father's peace, which was not the peace of the world. I did not understand then; but I did now. His peace is that of the heart, to know and to love Him and the Father above all other. While His eyes spoke of His peace, His lips offered up mine.
"You have served me well," his whispered, straining to make Himself heard, though it was only I who could hear. "And you will continue to do so. In a short while you will be able to lay your burden down and join me in my Father's house."
The tears began to gather in my eyes again. How many times has He had this effect on me in the past few days?
"Yours will not be the ignominious death you sought before. You will die in glory for my truths and in my name."
Death. That fate which I had sought these past millennia and never attained was now His gift to me. A precious gift.
"I am yours Master and will gladly proclaim your name to all who have ears with which to hear," I said softly. I knew He would hear me. "Thank you, Master, for allowing me the release of death in your name."
He held my gaze for another moment before closing His eyes. I saw a tear slip from under one lowered lid and I longed to give Him the same comfort He gave to me. In that moment I lost the last vestiges of my elvish contempt and impatience for mortals, these unworthy emotions slipped from my heart as the tear slid down His cheek. If He could die for such imperfect, frail creatures such as these, such as I, then how could I do any less? I would walk the path He laid before me willingly and with love. As He wrought the final transformation of my heart, the darkening skies turned black. The sound of thunder filled the air though no lightening had preceded it.
Despite the rumbling darkness, all there could hear Him speak.
"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
Even in the midst of His suffering He did not think of Himself.
"My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"
That was the last hint that the spirit of the Father, Illuvatar, had been housed by weak, human flesh, and His last words were words of trust for the One who held all in His grasp.
"Into your hands, I commend my spirit."
It was over. He was dead, but only in the now empty shell He had once inhabited. He had gone to prepare the rooms of His Father's house while I went to do His bidding and proclaim His name, until that time when I find the sweet release He had promised. This is why I never sailed into the west; this is why death had never been able to claim me for its own. I had survived the centuries to be here at this moment, to witness this truth and to die for His name. At long last, I understood.
My back is to the rough, crude brick wall. They strip me of my garments and leave me naked and defenseless against the judgment to come. I am labeled blasphemer, heretic, worshipper of a false god. All of these titles I bear with pride for I will not disavow my allegiance to my Master.
And so I come full circle as the first hand is raised and the first stone is thrown. Unlike the last time, agonizing pain explodes outwards at the point of contact and drops me to my knees.
I hear myself repeat the Master's words with all the faith and conviction that I hold in my heart. "Forgive them, Master."
I force myself to stand under the punishing hail of rock and earth. As I struggle upright, I feel myself being raised up by unseen hands. Through the red haze of excruciating pain I hear His soft whisper,
"Trust in Me".
Uplifted, I stand in His embrace. He does not take away the torment I suffered. Nay, I feel with exquisite clarity every bone as it breaks and every piece of flesh as it is rent from my body. Yet filled with His peace, I am in the eye of the storm and able to endure the unendurable as He has before me, as others have done in His name. When my bleeding, broken flesh can no longer sustain me, He gently lays me down. From a distance I hear footsteps walking away until there is no sound left at all.
"Master?" I gasp through pierced lungs that will no longer hold air.
And one last time He asks, "Will you come with me?"
I can no longer move or speak, but with Him it is not necessary. He reads the answer in my heart and takes me by the hand once more. The shattered body that had once been mine lets out a soft sigh, the last breath of life. I take one last loving look at the world of Man, at those frail, vulnerable mortals I have learned to see through the Master's eyes.
Thus the first clear notes take me by surprise. Long has the voice of Ulmo been silent, as what few of my people remain on these shores have dwindled, and yet I hear him as clearly as if he sang for the first time. My heart swells with indescribable joy and I hear the Master's gentle laughter at my naïve astonishment.
It is as He had said, the One, the Father, and Illuvatar are one in the same. The master has kept His promise to me and gives to me one last gift, a gift to last until the end of Time. I let the ethereal beauty of the Music fill my soul.
~ FINIS ~